Dear Media: In This Case, If You Mean “Faggot” Then Say “Faggot”

On Saturday in Washington D.C. the “debate” over health care got very ugly when protesters opposed to healthcare reform screamed “faggot” at out Rep. Barney Frank, while Rep.
John Lewis
, a civil rights leader who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was called a ni**ger.

That’s not what this post is about.

This is about how ithe use of the slurs has been reported in the media — because it’s very different reporting
depending on where you get your information. And sometimes it varies inside the same
publication, or even the same article.

For me, it all started at the Huffington Post where Sam
Stein
posted an article about the protests. By the time I saw it,
the title looked like this:

But other people saw the article when it first went up, and
the title reportedly read “Tea Party Protests: ‘Ni**er,’ ‘Faggot’ Shouted At
members Of Congress.”

So one slur was asterisked out while the other wasn’t. Then someone
thought better of that decision. At least they thought better of it in the headline. In the
body of the article it looks like this:

Second paragraph shows the author’s original words.

This got me to wondering which media used which words in their reporting and if there was any rhyme or reason in it. I found some surprises,
even for someone as cynical as I have come to be.

The Washington Post, hometown paper for Congress, didn’t print the actual slurs at all, instead choosing couched terms such as “racial
epithets” and “anti-gay slurs.”

The paper of record, the New York Times, chose their words even more
carefully, discussing the use of “invective” and the “ugly tone” of the “racial slurs.” About what was yelled at Rep. Frank, they referred to it as “anti-gay remarks.”

CNN’s headline read "Protestors hurl slurs and spit at Democrats" and while the article itself used the word "faggot," the racial slurs used were referred to as the ‘N’ word. 

Heading to the granddaddy of alternative papers, The Village Voice used the headline “N Bombs, Anti-gay Slur” but the body
of the article spells out both insults.

Over at The Right Perspective, there are claims that the
insults never happened. They also state that the “Tea bagger protests” term is
insulting, and was coined by “gay CNN reporter Anderson Cooper on April 14,
2009.” No doubt Rachel Maddow would take some issue with where the term
was first used.

ABC News has taken a center line stance with their video
reporting. ABC reporters used neutral terms such as “ugly incidents”
and “racial and homophobic epithets” before showing video of Rep. Frank being
called a *beep* and the crowd laughing.

Fox News referred to the slurs as "racial" and they also spoke with Rep. Crowley of New York in regards to the anti-gay comments hurled at Frank, who said “I don’t even want to repeat it.” That quote comes very late in the article while quotes at the very top featured comments from Tea Party activists who organized the protests. They said the events were "isolated” incidents and distanced themselves from those involved. 

As for the gay press, The Advocate chose not to use the actual terms after reportedly first using the word "faggot" in their headline. (You can still see the word "faggot" in the article’s url.)

It’s new media though, that seem most willing to actually spell out the
terms that old media seems terribly afraid of. Towleroad.com busts out “Teabaggers Heckle ‘Faggot’ Barney Frank at US Capitol
as a headline, while Gawker goes all the way using both the racial and homophobic
slurs in their headline.

In the end, the audience of each news outlet seems to denote how much the ugly
language of the protests gets cleaned up when it’s reported. The larger and more traditional the
media organization, the less likely they are to repeat what some could classify
as hate speech verbatim. Blogs and new media generally make their own rules on
what they say.

I’m siding with the blogs here. When ugly things happen, you need to be able to
talk about how ugly they are. Cleaning it up to polite Sunday brunch discussion
doesn’t convey what happened, nor the intent. And if you can’t face what
happened, you’re never going to prevent it from happening again.

This is one rare time that the mainstream media needs to say
faggot when they mean faggot.

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